Content Warning: Discussion of physical violence and sexual assault
This semester, I started a job as a catering waiter and bartender to save up for my big move to Los Angeles next semester. This job has me bartending all different kinds of events—big events like weddings, birthdays, or parties and small events like receptions, meetings, brunches, and so on. I was recently bartending a reception after a small academic conference when a guy who was maybe a few years older than I am came up for a glass of wine. When I asked which he wanted, he told me to pick for him. I asked his preferences.
“Whichever is your favorite,” he said. I get this a lot while bartending, and even though I hate wine, I always smile and respond with a glib comment about whatever bottle is the fullest and have them try that one, because charisma and jokes bring in the best tips. So I poured him a glass with a smile, and he moved to the side and downed the wine.
He came up for another and asked my name.
He came up again.
And eventually tried all six kinds of wine.
I tried to pretend it wasn’t strange and simply smiled at him as I frantically attempted to summon my catering lead, who was nowhere near me. I’m not allowed to leave the bar, and I wasn’t actually sure if I was supposed to cut people off at an academic event like that. He came up for yet another glass of wine, and I got the impression he was studying me intently again, even though he was wearing sunglasses.
“Are you a student here?” he asked me. I told him I was at the other local university, and a long pause ensued where I could tell he wanted me to continue the conversation. I couldn’t exactly excuse myself, so I asked the same. He wasn’t a full time student but was taking a few courses. He spoke with the loud boldness of those on the brink of intoxication, and I answered nicely enough. I’m always polite at work. I put on a cheery smile, which was apparently enough to push him forward.
He asked me out and asked for my number. Now, a disclaimer—I’m not one of those girls who gets asked out at random. I’m a chubby, awkward, friend-and-nothing-more kind of girl. That day, I was at my finest. From lugging all the alcohol up to where the event was being held, my face was flushed, and sweat dripped down my neck. My hair was in two braids in the way that I know makes me look like a little kid, and I wasn’t wearing an ounce of makeup because I had come to work right from class. I was a rough sight. So to say I was taken off guard by the ask-out was an understatement.
I didn’t know what to say. I had never been in a situation in which I was asked out and wanted to say no. Plus, I was at my job and felt anxious about my inability to leave. Cornered. Reactive. So I said, “Sure.” I would give him the wrong phone number, I reasoned quickly.
“My phone is dead—give me yours, and I’ll send myself a text.” he said, and I froze. I was stuck. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t really backtrack and say I lied. So I let him text himself using my phone. When I got off work later, I saw that he had responded.
Now, a lot of people are going to read that and say he seems so sweet! He wants to treat you! I know, but that doesn’t get rid of the bad vibes I got from him.
“Why didn’t you just say no when he asked for your phone? Even if you were surprised, you shouldn’t have led him on. Just tell him you’re not interested.”
I’m not sure if you’ve ever blown someone off or been blown off before, but something you may not realize is that men and women often have incredibly different reactions to it. Women are taught from a young age to aspire to please men, as though it is an honor to be doted on by them. We are taught that it’s our fault somehow if a man is not interested in us, and we are not allowed to be angry about it. We are taught to change ourselves to mold to what men want. When women get angry about men “ghosting” them, we are called crazy and obsessed.
It’s easier for a man to reject a woman. If a woman asks a man out and he turns her down, her feelings are hurt, sure, but it ends there because that’s how women are taught to behave—amicably, respectfully, and silently.
Men, however, being blown off? Something else entirely. Men often get personally offended and express that. They may tell the woman they were flirting with that they weren’t that interested to begin with. They may act like the woman was ugly. They make any excuse to avoid self-reflection. They do not change. It doesn’t even cross their mind because they’ve never been taught that it should. If a man asks a woman out, she may not turn him down even though she might want to.
Why, you’re asking? Obviously, you don’t understand the innate fear women have of men.
A Fear Bred by Society
“No, I’m not interested,” is never that simple. Why? Because we have cases like this, in which Janese Taleton-Jacksin was gunned down after she rejected a man's advances at a bar. And in Detroit, Mary Spears turned down a man who asked for her number and was shot. And in NYC, a woman told a man she wasn’t interested, and he slit her throat.
So even if I didn’t think of it in the moment, the fear of rejecting men is one many women have after seeing so many of these cases in the media.
My roommates work at this catering job with me, so when they asked me later about my shift, I told them what happened as though it was a funny occurrence because that’s my default method of delivery about things that make me uncomfortable. As my love life is non-existent, they encouraged me to go out with him. What’s the harm in a free dinner and movie? I started to consider it. Maybe I was reading too much into things, and he wasn’t being weird after all. Maybe he was actually just nervous and that’s why he drank so much—liquid courage. Maybe I was oversensitive.
The next day, as I still hadn’t convinced myself to text him back, he reached out again.
I am a 22-year-old senior in college, and honestly, sometimes I just wish I had someone to easily hook up with. I considered this when I got this second text. Do I text back? We can just meet up, I don’t have to commit to anything. I tried to get myself to let loose and have fun.
And yet still, that feeling wouldn’t go away. I listened to it and guiltily ignored the messages.
Forced to Face the Music
The next week, I worked another event at the same university and thought nothing of it. The last event was in a totally different field of study—I figured I had nothing to worry about.
I nearly had an anxiety attack when I saw him walk in. I don’t handle confrontation well, and I knew I couldn’t escape. I hoped, by some will of God, he had miraculously forgotten what I looked like. I was wrong, obviously. He strode right up, brow raised as he studied me. I tried to transform the tension into a smile. I said hi and asked how he was doing. He gestured for punch, and I poured it for him.
“I don’t know, how do you think I’m doing? You never answered my texts.”
I was shocked, scared, and a little annoyed at his bluntness.
“I’m sorry… my schedule has been crazy, and finals are killing me—”
He interrupts me, “If you didn’t want to go out, you should have just said so.”
I should have said then that I didn’t, but his eyes held me there in fear. There was this boiling anger, and I couldn’t help but wonder where all that rage came from. It couldn’t all possibly be for me. I wanted to say it then, but that anger held me back. All I knew was I wanted this situation to be over as quickly as possible.
“I really haven’t had time. I will message you tonight,” I said. He stared at me hard, as though trying to figure out if I was lying or not. At this point, a line was forming behind him for drinks, and I was growing anxious.
“Good. I want to get to know you.”
I nodded and he left.
I was on edge the entire day. I didn’t text him that night and was rewarded with this beautiful good morning text.
And there it is. The anger beneath the surface I could feel even when he wore a smile. The man behind the man that made my stomach nauseous. Why do men try to pursue you and then act like you’re trash for not wanting them?
Social Conditioning and Anger
Margaret Atwood is known for the saying: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”
A lot of men out there get incredibly defensive when this fact is brought up. ‘I’m nothing like that!’ they will say. Okay, maybe you aren’t. Many men are wonderful. Except, of course, the ones who aren’t.
Did you know that 1 in 5 women in the U.S. have been raped at some point in their life? That 1 in 3 women are victims of domestic violence from a male partner? That 19.3 million women in the U.S. have been stalked at some point in their life?
Why are these numbers so high? Why are men, specifically, linked to so much violence and aggression, where the statistics of their female counterparts are minuscule in comparison? And why, as a society, do most girls, in some way, know to avoid getting men angry at all costs by the time they reach puberty?
In a 2014 study from the University of South Australia, Michelle Wharton and her colleagues looked at the relationship between masculinity and anger arousal. Through a series of tests, they concluded that gender but not biological sex, explains anger differences. Masculine identifying and performing participants reported greater anger than feminine participants did. Essentially, male anger has nothing to do with testosterone or biology. So where does it come from? Pure social conditioning.
From a young age, masculine qualities are encouraged in men. When boys cry, they are told to “man up.” Boys are prevented from playing with games society has deemed feminine and yelled at for wanting to wear anything even remotely “girly.” Boys are not allowed to be emotionally bare or show vulnerability—except boys who are gay. As such, femininity in men is associated negatively with a lack of want or ability to please a woman, encouraging the assertion of aggressive and “masculine” behaviors in fear and defense of their masculinity.
So to the man that felt the need to assert his dominance over me by telling me he hopes I find someone who treats me like trash, when he was probably just hurt that I blew him off, I’m sorry that society has let you down so much that you don’t know how to express your emotions with anything but anger.
I’m sorry that I was afraid of you. You probably don’t mean to be aggressive and violent. On the other hand, you have made no moves to change yourself, and for that I urge you to self-reflect and realize the absolute fear you imposed on me with your sheer presence.
To all the men out there, there’s something you need to understand. Your simple presence can be terrifying. Raising your voice? Whether it’s in positive or negative passion, it’s frightening because of the possibility of what could follow. You grabbing my arm to get my attention scares me because of the men who have grabbed me harder. Your jealousy makes me nervous because of the jealous rampages I have experienced before. You talking over me makes me feel worthless because of the men before you who have silenced me.
Your job, in every capacity, should be reading body language. Respecting boundaries. Understanding that sometimes a girl blowing you off has nothing to do with you and everything to do with her. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and feminine and emotional. Looking at yourself when you grow angry and asking if you are truly angry, or just not allowing yourself to express the correct emotion.
Angry men breed angry men. Check your rage.